From Pompeii in the East Bay to eBay

Bob the human at Fantasy Books and Games
Bob the human at Fantasy Books and Games

I’ve been selling on eBay for quite a while now. Bob (the Human) has this large warehouse that has been dormant since the late 90’s. He started with 1 store in the early 80’s when I met him, and opened or bought 4 more into the early 90’s. He opened the warehouse in an Oakland suburb to house large quantities of merchandise for future distribution to his stores, and the rest of the country through mail orders. When the “collapse” of 94-95 happened, the market ended up with only one real distributor, Diamond Comic Distribution. Through a complex series of negotiations and conversations, his warehouse became the landing point for large air and truck shipments from Diamond to the entire region and Bob’s competitors became his customers as they met at his warehouse to pick up their weekly “fix” of new comics and everything else Diamond sold.  They would pick up the new stuff and shop around this huge room of shelves stacked up to the ceiling with older stuff.

Then, Diamond Distribution decreed that every store in America would be serviced by UPS, which ended the weekly conclave at the warehouse, and one day a few months later, the workers left, the fork lift was turned off, the doors closed, and time stopped. And the dust slowly started to settle. What used to be a bustling, thriving business began to be slowly covered up by dust and accumulated debris of a collapsing empire. Until I show up 5 years later.

Brick and board shelving with "short comic boxes"
Brick and board shelving with "short comic boxes" - each with up to 150 comics

Bob brought in truckloads of unsold merchandise and fixtures from each store as it closed, and filled in all the empty space on the shelves and pallet racks, and then the truck bays until they were almost impassable As the years went by, a layer of dust settled over everything. He did have  one very part time laborer that would come in to work in solitude, listening to country music for a few hours a week, rearranging a few things, breaking open a few boxes and filing the books or comics on the shelves, and filling backstock orders for the store, and keeping a critical system of narrow pathways open to certain areas deemed necessary. He made a valiant effort, but some areas became closed in and “written off” by the flotsam. Without him, any hope of finding anything but what you could see and reach from the parking lot would have been futile, which was still almost true in many sectors. But he was completely overwhelmed by weekly van loads that Bob would bring in, or occasional tsunamis of large purchases that Bob would often make at bargain basement discounts.

My new job is to find valuable things amongst the rubble, like an archaeologist, and turn them into gold, like a modern day alchemist using eBay and my website. There are about 3500 square feet of floor space, one large rectangle with 24-foot ceilings (8 meters), 2 rollup truck doors, two bathrooms in one corner, and  a two story “office” over in the other corner, with a window on the second floor. This place is amazing. There are heavy steel pallet racks with 3/4 inch plywood shelves full of 1000-pound pallets of, uh, something, stacked three high, so the top shelf is at 15 feet. If I want to inspect them to look for the gems, I have to use extension ladders and climb up and walk around up there like a construction worker. There are rows and rows of shelves built with 12-inch square cinder blocks and 8- and 12-foot 1×12 inch boards, six stories tall, full of thousands of little white boxes made to hold about 150 comics each in a vertical position so one can paw through them and see the titles and numbers. Then the seventh (top) shelf of each row is filled with unopened shipping cartons, stacked 3 high, of comics that won’t be needed or wanted for years until the ones in the little white boxes are gone. There are 2 rows of nicely constructed 8-foot tall, 3-sided “cubicles” of sturdy magazine shelves for full-cover display of magazines and books from back in the day that this place had regular customers and presentation mattered. Now each of the 6 cubicles is full of shoulder-high piles of stuff and crap that make it difficult to see and reach the books and magazines, now with a layer of dust on them. Oh, and the fork lift is parked in the aisle, surrounded by the cubicles and the piles and piles of junk that make it impossible to move without investing hours of man-hours clearing a path to the outside world. Plus it’s lost a lot of oil in a puddle on the floor.

Warehouse aisles and piles
This is the ordered, accessible part of the warehouse!

Bob has some ideas about what would sell at a price that would make it worth the effort, and an incredible knowledge of the 3-D space inside the warehouse. He knows in his mind where almost everything is, even if it would be impossible for him to reach some of it. That’s where my small size, nimble frame, and fearless attitude come in. Moebius Graphic novels are in cases of 50 pounds each on a pallet 15 feet in the air, near the back of the warehouse room 1, and it’s my job to get some down, photographed, and on sale. The Star Trek books are in cubicle 5, but I have to squeeze down a narrow aisle, climb THROUGH the forklift, and somehow move 400 pounds of stuff to get at them. And the shipping boxes are on top of the bathrooms, so I climb a permanent ladder made of 2×4’s and I have to tightrope-walk across unfloored ceiling joists to reach them, because they were put up there over on that side before the forklift was closed in by clutter. That’s basically where I was when the above picture was taken.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *